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Wrong-way driver in I-94 crash had history of alcohol, drug offenses

Wyatt Daniel Klein in a 2008 mug shot in Ramsey County, N.D. Ramsey County Sheriff's Department

The man driving the wrong way on Interstate 94 in a deadly crash Friday had a history of drinking and driving, drug violations and other offenses, according to court records in North Dakota and Minnesota.

The North Dakota Highway Patrol said alcohol was a factor in the crash. Troopers say they smelled alcohol on the driver, Wyatt Daniel Klein of Jamestown, and his vehicle.

Klein, 28, was one of four people killed Friday night on the interstate about 33 miles west of Jamestown. His pickup truck, driving east in the westbound lanes, collided head-on with a West Fargo family's car.

Aaron Deutscher, 34, his pregnant 36-year-old wife, Allison, and their 18-month-old daughter, Brielle, were in the other vehicle and all killed in the accident.

Klein's record includes at least three convictions related to underage drinking and driving, five for driving with a suspended license and one for having marijuana in a vehicle as a driver.

Most recently, in February 2011, he pleaded guilty to driving while under the influence in Sedan, Minn., about 25 miles south of Alexandria in Pope County.

Police there said he became stuck in a snowy ditch and sought help at a neighboring home with a beer in his hand. A preliminary breath test found he had a blood alcohol concentration of 0.14 percent.

He was also cited for multiple traffic offenses, including for speeding, stop sign violations and failing to take care while operating a vehicle.

In 2007, Klein pleaded guilty to a felony motor vehicle theft charge in Pope County. In 2008, Klein pleaded guilty to a felony burglary charge. In both cases, he was ordered to undergo chemical dependency evaluation and treatment, and not to use alcohol or illegal drugs.

North Dakota Highway Patrol Sgt. Tom Herzig said he doesn't think Klein wasn't driving the wrong way for long because the patrol received no calls about a wrong-way driver prior to the crash.

There were no clear signs of how Klein ended up on the wrong side of the interstate. The eastbound and westbound lanes are divided by a grassy ditch in that stretch, but not by median barriers.

The nearest entrance to the interstate is about three miles away.

Crash reconstruction is ongoing, and toxicology reports are not yet available.

A man who called The Forum and identified himself as Klein's father said his son had struggled for years with alcohol problems but was working to turn his life around.

"He had made a big comeback," said the man, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity surrounding the crash. "That was his goal was to get away from that crowd."

The man said Klein left behind a four-year-old son.

The man and a woman who wrote to The Forum identifying herself as Klein's mother both said they were unhappy the state patrol commented on the possible involvement of alcohol before a toxicology report is released.

A funeral service will be held for the Deutschers on Thursday at Trinity Lutheran Church in Moorhead at 2 p.m., with visitation starting at noon.

The sudden death of the young family left relatives and friends reeling. Former Forum colleagues of Allison Deutscher, who worked at the newspaper for 13 years, released balloons from the top of the building in remembrance of her and her family Monday afternoon.

Driver had history behind the wheel

Wyatt Klein's history of drinking or drug violations while driving all stem from incidents in Pope County, Minn., which is just south of Alexandria's Douglas County:

* April 2003: Possession of marijuana in a motor vehicle.

* October 2003: Minor consumption and open bottle while driving.

* February 2004: Minor consumption and open bottle while driving.

* July 2004: Underage drinking and driving.

* February 2011: Driving while under the influence.

Source: Minnesota court records